House approves new Md. congressional districts

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ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland House of Delegates passed Gov. Martin O'Malley's shake-up of the state's eight congressional districts Wednesday.

The bill now goes back to the Senate -- which passed the map Tuesday -- for approval of a few typographical changes before O'Malley signs it.

Criticized by members of both parties as blatant gerrymandering, the map has been a source of controversy thanks to districts that opponents say combine areas that lack common interests. For example, the 6th District combines Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties in Western Maryland with parts of Montgomery County, while the 3rd District stretches from eastern Montgomery County through Baltimore City. The Eastern Shore's 1st District now goes as far west as Carroll County.

"What does Carroll County have in common with Ocean City?" asked Del. John Cluster, R-Baltimore County.

Residents of rural communities should be represented by someone who understands the issues of those communities, which are different from those of urban areas, said Del. Kelly Schulz, R-Frederick County, citing a letter from one of her constituents.

"There is a war and it is not just in the Middle East. It is going on in Maryland and it is against rural Maryland," said Del. Kathryn Afzali, R-Frederick County.

The governor prioritized politics over the needs of Maryland residents, said Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-Eastern Shore. With the map lumping the more liberal Montgomery County in with Western Maryland, Democrats have a better shot of winning the district from 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.

"We all know why Frederick is being divided," said Del. Michael Hough, R-Frederick and Washington counties. "Pure, partisan political gain."

Other critics said the map strips minority voters of their political power by dividing them into different districts.

Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George's County, and Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery County, urged their colleagues to keep Rep. Donna Edwards' 4th District in Montgomery and Prince George's, rather than shifting it into Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and dividing the black and Hispanic votes.

But supporters argued that the districts look different because the state's demographics have changed since the districts were last drawn 10 years ago.

"The reality is the demographics of our state are changing," said Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery County. "So I extend a hand of friendship to my Western Maryland colleagues."

Despite the population shifts, the map maintains some stability, with 70 percent of Maryland residents keeping their current congressional representation, said Del. Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County. "The map ... was done really carefully, not willy-nilly."

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